ACLU Challenges Arizona Education Tax Credits, Again

Published January 25, 2008

(Chicago, Illinois – January 25, 2008) On Thursday, January 24, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a case challenging Arizona’s 10-year-old tuition tax-credit program–the first time a federal appellate court has heard such a case since the U.S. Supreme Court declared Cleveland’s citywide school voucher program constitutional in 2002.

The case–Winn v. Garriot–was originally filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in February 2000; that court dismissed the challenge and upheld the law in March 2005. A previous challenge to the program, Kotterman v. Killian, was dismissed by the Arizona Supreme Court in January 1999 and by the U.S. Supreme Court in October 1999, when both found it to be legal under the U.S. Constitution. Nonetheless, the American Civil Liberties Union is again questioning the program’s validity on First Amendment grounds, alleging it violates the Establishment Clause.

Approximately 25,000 children in Arizona currently receive scholarships to attend the schools of their parents’ choosing through the tax-credit program. Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island operate similar programs, which give individuals and corporations credits on their state taxes for private donations made to scholarship-granting organizations.

The Institute for Justice (IJ), a civil liberties defense group based in Washington, DC, argued the case on behalf of several Arizona families using the tax-credit program to help their children attend the schools that best meet their needs, as well as the Arizona School Choice Trust, the scholarship-granting organization in the state.

Experts contacted by The Heartland Institute offered the following comments about the hearing. You may quote from this statement or contact the experts directly at the phone numbers and email addresses provided below. IJ can put reporters in touch with families using the scholarship tax credit program. Contact IJ directly at 703/682-9320.

Another educational choice expert willing to speak to reporters for this story is:

Dr. Howard Fuller
Founder and Director
The Institute for the Transformation of Learning
Marquette University
414/ 288-5774 phone

“For nearly 10 years, Arizona’s scholarship tax credit has given tens of thousand of families the freedom to choose a school that best suits their children’s needs. For the sake of the thousands of children relying on this program, the court should side with well-established precedent and reject this attack on school choice.”

Tim Keller
Executive Director
Institute for Justice – Arizona Chapter

“The important facts have not changed since the Arizona Supreme Court found the Arizona scholarship tax program just fine nearly a decade ago.

“The Arizona scholarship tax credit program is not the sort of thing you would expect Chief Justice Roberts and Milton Friedman to have any real disagreement about, save for whether tax credits or vouchers are more suited for the job.”

Don Soifer
Education Policy Analyst
The Lexington Institute
[email protected]

“Instead of recognizing the tremendous educational opportunities that Arizona’s school choice programs have created for thousands of children, the Arizona Civil Liberties Union just continues its misguided quest to force those children back into the public schools that failed them.

“Both the Arizona Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States have already rejected the arguments the plaintiffs are pushing. Arizona’s Supreme Court held that it’s no constitutional violation for governments to allow people to use their own money to help kids attend better schools. Likewise, the U.S. Supreme Court clearly ruled that the Constitution does not forbid parents from choosing to use scholarships at religious schools.

“Courts should never interfere when the government gives people an opportunity to use their own hard-earned money to make life better for someone else.

“As the Arizona Supreme Court has already held in this case, nothing in the Constitution prevents parents from using privately funded scholarships to send their children to the best available schools–even if those schools happen to be operated by religious groups.

“This case is about far more than the survival of Arizona’s Tax Credit Scholarship programs. If the Ninth Circuit somehow accepts the plaintiffs’ absurd logic, its decision could threaten to cut off the educational lifeline these scholarships have provided for tens of thousands of disadvantaged children nationwide.”

Dave Roland
Education and Legal Policy Analyst
The Show-Me Institute
[email protected]

“The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has heard oral arguments in the ACLU’s quixotic First Amendment challenge to Arizona’s popular donation tax-credit program that supports school choice for thousands of children.

“After eight years and numerous losses in court the outcome is certain; tax credits will be upheld as constitutional.

“Tax credits have been upheld in numerous state court cases and by the U.S. Supreme Court in Mueller v. Allen.

“In the 2002 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a more credible challenge to the Milwaukee voucher program made on similar First Amendment grounds. The case against tax credits is astonishingly flimsy. “This latest suit is a sad act of desperation by the ACLU, which should devote its resources to issues more worthy than denying children the opportunity to attend good schools.”

Adam B. Schaeffer
Education Policy Analyst
Cato Institute
[email protected] g

“The Alliance for School Choice strongly believes that the court should side with Arizona’s families in reaffirming the constitutionality of the state’s popular, effective Individual School Tuition Tax Credit Program. It would be an outrage for the court to force thousands of disadvantaged children from their schools.

“The fact that establishment special interests have spent eight years and untold hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to destroy the hopes and opportunities of so many families is indeed revealing. It’s time to end the stream of frivolous special-interest litigation, which only serves to frighten parents into thinking that the dreams they hold for their children might be snatched away.”

Charles R. Hokanson
Alliance for School Choice
[email protected]

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